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Planning Reforms to Increase Sydney’s Housing Supply

By Julia Moiso, Assistant Planner, David Lock Associates

Changes to NSW planning legislation are being presented by the State Government as a means to increase housing supply in Sydney. The proposed amendments to the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act (EP&A Act) will change the way that development applications are assessed.

Planning Minister Rob Stokes aims to increase specialisation and professionalisation amongst the decision making process within Council. The proposal means that Council would determine fewer applications and that they could be made (by direction from the Minister) to use an independent expert panel. The panel would be made up of two independent experts and a community representative from a pool nominated by Council. This approach is already used by a number of Council’s in Sydney.

The amendment is a positive step towards speeding up the decision making process by depoliticising and removing some layers of red tape from the current process. Having decisions made by an expert independent panel should also ensure robust high quality decisions are made in accordance with strategic policies.

The proposed changes should hopefully not only benefit developers but the wider community, as the amendments will require Council and State planning bodies to prepare Community Participation Plans and will give some incentives to developers to consult with the community before submitting their development applications.

Removing the development assessment pressure from Councils will also make it more achievable for them to devise and update the planning controls for their local areas. It has also been suggested that these reforms will require simplifying the DCPs, in particular the controls dictating the scale and massing of buildings and to implement a standardised format for DCPs across all Council’s. This will promote consistency across the approximate 400 DCP formats currently in use. 

Other key reforms proposed are:

  • Measures to ensure that LEPs are current and up to date;
  • Introducing clearer and fairer VPAs between councils and developers that enhance transparency on agreements to fund public amenities for the community;
  • Simplifying building provisions in efforts to remove confusion for developers;
  • Extend and improve the complying development assessment process so that terraces as well as greenfield dwellings are permissible;
  • Improve the availability of internal review options for proponents aggrieved by council decisions as a faster, low cost alternative to court action; and
  • New authoritative powers are given to the Department of Planning and Environment Secretary to ensure an efficient processing of developments that require separate approvals and advice under different NSW legislation.

Whilst these reforms are a step in the right direction, it also presents itself as a missed opportunity to implement more substantial reform. The reforms are a watered down version of the 2013 reforms by the previous Minister Brad Hazzard, who attempted to introduce fast track approvals of DAs in high growth areas if the development complied with council controls and requirements. Mr Hazzard also attempted to introduce the idea that development assessments should be determined by a panel of planning experts in efforts to de-politicise the decision making process, a concept which is reflected in Mr Stokes’ reforms.

Mr Stokes’ planning reforms seem to duplicate a somewhat more subtle approach to the same agenda Mr Hazzard tried to implement in 2013. However in our opinion, rather than creating a more relaxed complying development assessment process that allows entire dwellings to be approved without council decisions, the government should also be focussing on alleviating pressures from local councils by reviving previous development codes (also proposed in the 2013 planning reform) under which developers can more easily progress potentially larger development projects provided that they are in compliance with the relevant codes and controls.

This idea married to the implementation of panels to assess development applications should ensure a fast track DA process that is determined by a panel of in field experts rather than being held up by Councillor decisions. An extended opportunity for this may be that panels should be introduced under a single framework that operates under a consistent set of provisions, in which the Minister has the power to direct and deal with any lack of quality or tardiness in planning decisions, corruption or conflicts of interest.

The proposed reforms are similar but far less dramatic to those proposed in 2013. The planning system is still overly complex and a more substantial review may have been able to streamline the system. However we remain optimistic that the proposed reforms will help boost housing supply in Sydney and will shape a path in creating a fairer planning system that both benefits the community as well as developers. 

sydney, planning sydney, nsw, planning reforms, housing

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